Shades of Nostalgia

Jerry Thompson's 1938 Cape Cod in Vienna has sported a variety of stationary awnings over the years.
Jerry Thompson's 1938 Cape Cod in Vienna has sported a variety of stationary awnings over the years. (By Ann Cameron Siegal For The Washington Post)
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By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 12, 2008

Patti Lowery fondly recalls the yellow awnings of her D.C. childhood in the 1940s.

"They were lovely, and the lowering of them in the early summer always seemed to mark the season more firmly than arbitrary dates on the calendar," said Lowery, a writer and editor who now lives in Baltimore. "Better, though, they really did provide shade and kept places nearly comfortably cool. I miss them."

Awnings may give a house a nostalgic look, but they perform a thoroughly modern function: They help reduce energy costs.

It's common sense -- awnings stop some of the sun's heat before it gets to your windows, while drapes and shades help only after heat enters through the glass. Solar radiation through glass accounts for nearly 20 percent of the load on an air conditioner, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

The Energy Department estimates that awnings can reduce solar heat gain -- the amount temperature rises because of sunshine -- by as much as 65 percent on windows with southern exposures and 77 percent on those with western exposures.

Robert Martensson, owner of Awnings by Sunair in Jessup, Md., and the fifth generation to enter the family business, said he has seen an upswing in orders recently. "People are going back to window and door awnings because of energy costs," he said.

According to the Energy Department, a small, horizontal awning will completely shade a south-facing window during the summer. Because of the angle of the sun, an east- or west-facing window needs an awning that extends down to cover a large percentage of the window.

Cooling isn't the only reason to consider awnings. They can enhance also the curb appeal of a house, adding a splash of color or highlighting architectural features. They can also protect carpet, fabrics and artwork from fading.

Another plus: You can keep your windows open while it's raining.

Additionally, and probably the reason awning manufacturers hear the most, is that awnings can provide shade over a patio or deck.

Sound appealing? First make sure you know where you're shopping for.

Even those in the business use the words "awnings" and "canopies" differently. Some companies define awnings as architectural projections that are fully supported by the building to which they are attached, while canopies have some additional support on their outer edges.

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